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Is it safe to travel to the Galapagos Islands?

User Avatar Author: José  Ayerve
7 months ago
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This post was last updated on August 18th, 2020

The Galapagos Islands are one of the most secure places in the world in terms of personal safety and health. To preserve the archipelago, the islands were declared a National Park back in 1959. In 1969, the Galapagos Islands started receiving a steady flow of tourism. This ultimately meant that processes and directives needed to be implemented and improved, helping travelers enjoy the Galapagos Islands with an unparalleled degree of safety.

Listed below, are the reasons why the Enchanted Isles are a natural paradise where you can enjoy some peaceful vacations. Keep reading and find out more.

Travel requirements for Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands

New Protocol for International Arrivals by Air

The most salient points in the new protocol for entry to Ecuador are as follows:

  • All arrivals must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken no more than 10 days before entering the country. As long as they don’t present symptoms of COVID, they do not need to fulfil a mandatory preventive quarantine period.
  • Travelers without an international PCR test must undertake, at their own expense, a PCR test upon arrival (or at their accommodation) and then proceed to quarantine in temporary accommodation to await the results. With a negative test result, they may continue their journeys.
  • Travelers who present symptoms of COVID upon arrival in Ecuador are required to perform a PCR test at their own expense and proceed to quarantine even if they present a negative PCR test at the airport of entry.
  • All travelers fill out a Health Status Declaration form, hand it in upon arrival to Ministry of Health workers, who will also check symptoms.
  • Inbound travelers who test positive will be required to complete 10 days of mandatory preventive quarantine at their accommodation and be asymptomatic before leaving their accommodation.
  • The protocols apply to citizens from any country and from flights from any destination.
  • Travelers under 18 are considered a priority group and are not required to show negative PCR tests.

Onward Travel to the Galapagos Islands

The above protocol means that for onward travel to the Galapagos, the rules for entry are as follows:

  • Travel insurance certificate with medical coverage.
  • A certificate of a negative PCR test taken within 96 hours of their Galapagos flight.
  • A safe passage (salvoconducto) document, issued at least 24 hours before by the tour operator or hotel.
  • The Galapagos Transit Control Card, filled out online at least 24 hours before the flight.
  • A digital boarding pass.

Travelers can use their international certificate of a negative PCR test for travel to the islands, provided it is issued 96 hours prior to entry.

Please note that while travelers under 18 are not required to have PCR test for entry to Ecuador, the rule is under 12 for entry to the Galapagos.

When flying to the Galapagos, all travelers pass through temperature checks, disinfection matts, have to clean their hands with sanitizers, and wear facemasks at all times. Luggage is sanitized before and after its inspection by the Galapagos biosecurity and quarantine control agency.

Commercial flights connecting the islands resumed on August 3rd and have carried our first guests to the reopened Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel and aboard Yacht La Pinta.

Please let your Destination Expert know if you have any doubts or questions, or to request our complete biosecurity protocols and measures.

Table of contents

Click on the links below to go straight to the topic.

The Galapagos Islands are a remote destination

There are screenings, controls, and protocols at airports on the mainland and in the Galapagos all the time

The Galapagos National Park is a benchmark for preservation and disease control

Food in the Galapagos is safe and healthful 

The Metrojourneys difference: What sets us apart?

The Galapagos Islands are a remote destination

There are no direct international flights to the Galapagos Islands

As a measure to preserve the islands’ fauna and flora, international flights are not allowed to land in the Galapagos. You can only access the archipelago via domestic flights departing from: 

This limitation of flights incoming from the mainland helps National Park authorities regulate entrance to the islands. Ultimately, this means that, before you land in the Galapagos Islands, you will undergo a screening process, at either of the mainland Ecuador airports and when you land in Galapagos. However, we’ll get to that in a minute! Keep reading to find out more. 

Are you wondering how to get to the Galapagos Islands? Check out our blog!

There is no mass tourism in the Galapagos Islands

Mass tourism in the Galapagos archipelago is non-existent. Last year, approximately 270,000 people traveled to the islands, but only roughly 65,000 tourists accessed the National Park itself. This number is even lower than the attendance that a worldclass sporting event draws to one game!  

There are approximately 30,000 inhabitants located on Santa Cruz, San Cristobal, and Isabela Island. The populated locations on these islands represent a mere 3% of the entire archipelago. The other 97% (the Galapagos National Park) belongs to its endemic species. If you choose a cruise-based option, you’ll get to spend more time admiring incredible animals with your small group of fellow explorers.  

Traveler relaxing next to a Sea Lion colony in Santa Fe Island, Galapagos

How does sharing a pristine beach only with your travel companions and adorable animals sound like?

Gigantic cruises and cargo ships are not allowed in the Galapagos Islands

No gigantic cruises or cargo ships are allowed to travel through the Galapagos Marine Reserve. Covering an area of 51,000 mi2 (133,000 km2), the GMR was founded to protect one of the world’s most unusual and precious ecosystems. It is the largest marine reserve in the developing world and the second-largest in the world! 

Part of the measures enacted to protect the Reserve includes applying hard limit on ship size. This is meant to prevent pollution, disease vectors, and industrial fishing.  

What does this mean for tourism?
It means that there are no large cruise ships in the Galapagos. The largest expedition vessel in the Galapagos can only carry a maximum of 100 passengers per itinerary. This number is dwarfed by the passenger capacity of the largest cruise ships, which can fit upwards of 6,780 guests at double occupancy.

Did you know?

Even though we often use the word cruise when we talk about our expedition vessels, according to definitions provided by CLIA, Cruise Critic, and the CDC based on gross tonnage and number of passengers aboard, these are the boats that actually sail in the Galapagos Islands:

Type of vessel (According to definitions used by the CDC and CLIA)

Gross registered tonnage (GRT)

Number of passengers

Super Mega Cruise Ships

(Can’t sail in the Galapagos Islands)

More than 140,000 Approximately 5,000
Large Ships

(Can’t sail in the Galapagos Islands)

More than 60,000 Approximately 3,000
Medium Ships

(Can’t sail in the Galapagos Islands)

Less than 30,000  Approximately 500
Extra Small Ships

(Sail in the Galapagos Islands!)

Less than 3,000  Approximately 100
Intimate Ships

(Sail in the Galapagos Islands!)

Less than 1,000  Approximately 40

There are screenings, controls, and protocols at airports on the mainland and in the Galapagos all the time

There is a special screening process for travelers to the Galapagos Islands 

Before you travel to the Galapagos Islands from Quito or Guayaquilyou must first make your way through the INGALA (National Institute for the Galapagos) control area. It is a process that takes but a few minutes. Here, you pay for your transit control card, while your luggage undergoes an additional screening and is sealed with a special tag indicating that it has passed inspection and that none of the contents present a danger to the Galapagos’ fragile ecosystemsYou can then complete the check-in process, make your way through security, and proceed to your gate. 

All planes departing from the mainland undergo a special disinfection process 

Every flight traveling to the Galapagos initiates a cabin disinfection process that involves the spraying of Permethrinone of the safest treatments available for eliminating mites and other pests that can pose problems to the safety of the archipelago. This same process is applied to the airplane’s cargo area. Additionally, airports may fumigate following the arrival of each flight. Waste from each flight is not allowed to remain in the Galapagos and must be brought back to the mainland. 

Galapagos’ marine ports and airports have protocols as well

Some time agoin 2009, the Ministry of Agriculture met with the National Institute for the Galapagos and the Civil Aviation Agency (among other groups) to coordinate and establish some important safety protocols intended to prevent the spread of viruses into the Galapagos regionAs part of the adopted measures, all employees working in the numerous ports and airports of Galapagos are instructed to wear gloves and masks. Antimicrobial mats are placed in the breezeway in order to eliminate other bacteria and germs from passengers’ footwear as they make their way to the arrival terminal. Finally, travelers are encouraged to disinfect their hands with alcohol-based sanitizer upon exiting the terminal. 

Seymour Airport in Baltra Island, Galapagos

Since the number of flights that come from the mainland is not high, the circulation of people on the terminal is not overwhelming.

The Galapagos National Park is a benchmark for preservation and disease control 

There’re health and safety procedures aboard all ships

Procedures and policies don’t simply extend to travel to the Galapagos Islands. They include many controls within the archipelago as well. For instance, vessels that travel between islands undergo routine maintenance during which their hulls are thoroughly cleaned 

When cruises are in operation, explorers water shoes and sandals are sprayed down and disinfected upon returning to the ship after each site visit. Aboard our expedition vesselsmedical officer performs health and epidemiological screenings for each of the crew members prior to bringing passengers aboard. They also supervise the extra thorough cleaning and disinfecting of masks and snorkels.  

The National Park has eliminated invasive species and prevented the spread of diseases

The Galapagos National Park has implemented some of the most rigorous standards for the purpose of protecting the archipelago. Many of the islands have, at some point, faced problems due to the presence of invasive species, such as rats, goats, and feral cats. These animals, introduced via settlers, present a threat to native species and can be carriers of diseases that can threaten the archipelago’s fragile ecosystems.  

Efforts to control these threats have been highly successful. So much so, that other nature reserves now look to the Galapagos as an example of how to manage pest control. The result? Some islands are among the few places in the world where once introduced, pests like black rats have been successfully eliminated. Iconic sites such as North Seymour Island, Rabida, and Pinzon are now free of threats like these. 

The spread of diseases is not so easy on the archipelago

While the reduction of threats from rats is significant to human health, it is true that certain diseases, viruses, for example, can spread rather easily if the factors align. In something as complicated as viral illnesses, the Galapagos is considered one of the safest destinations around. 

A run of the mill seasonal flu can jump from one human to another without relying on a vector, like rats or mosquitoes. This event is generally uncommon in the Galapagos, because of the level of isolation from the continent and low population density of about 30,000 people that inhabit the entire archipelago. Thanks to the fact that there are large distances within the archipelago, the spread of disease is relatively straightforward to control in the unlikely event that one should occur. 

Blue-footed booby chick in Genovesa Island in Genovesa Island

Genovesa Island, which is located on the outskirts of the archipelago, is home to many bird species!

Food in the Galapagos is safe and healthful 

Most produce is shipped directly from the mainland

Because the Galapagos Islands are a wellprotected archipelago, most perishable and nonperishable foods are sourced from the mainland. Shipped from one single port in Guayaquil, foods are inspected and quarantined. Since not all edible products are allowed inside the archipelago, every product is put through a rigorous screening process to ensure it is safe to consume. Products, by-products, animal and plant derivatives must comply with the general regulations and specific requirements established by BGA officials.

Due to International Standards for Phytosanitary Measures, little can be transported in wood crates. Most goods must be transported in sterile, sealed containers, and be clear of insects, dirt, and even foreign seeds in order to pass inspection. Specific chemical treatments include a certificate of fumigation from a company accredited by Agrocalidad. Overall, whether industrialized or artisanal, the processing of all foods must guarantee the elimination of pestsOn top of that, they are still subject to laboratory analysis. 

Imports to the Galapagos Islands are highly regulated

For those products that do enter the Islands, Agrocalidad sets regulations that govern both goods and suppliers, and the BGA enforces them. All estates from which produce is sourced must be either registered with or endorsed by Agrocalidad and verified by BGA officials. Permits must be updated. Some products are forbidden since they could be transporting diseases or pests; only certified shipments can enter the archipelago. Therefore, products must arrive with proper health certificates that include production and expiration dates. Some products are permitted if they’ve been industrialized or pre-cooked and are accompanied by a hydrothermal treatment certificate.  Other regulations regarding food are:

Produce grown on the islands is constantly monitored

Agrocalidad and the Inspection and Quarantine System for Galapagos (IQS) work together to prevent the introduction of invasive species to Galapagos. For this reason, if you’re a farmer in Galapagos, you can’t just grow anything. Seeds must be certified from production sites authorized by the competent Ministry of Agriculture authority and must undergo a disinfection treatment. Agrocalidad then certifies its quality. 

Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel's shrimp ceviche

Regardless of the strict regulations, food in the Galapagos Islands is delicious! In this photo, you can see a tasty ceviche you can enjoy at the Finch Bay Galapagos Hotel.

The Metrojourneys Difference: What sets us apart?

We have a 24/7 Onboard Medical Officer 

One of the key differences between us and other expedition vessels that sail on the archipelago is the presence of an onboard medical officer, an expert trained in travel and nautical medicine. 

Site visits throughout the Galapagos National Park are exclusive 

One of the great things about sailing aboard one of our expedition vessels is the fact that site visits within the Galapagos National Park are exclusive. As a result, the only folks that you’ll be interacting with are fellow explorers –those with whom you are sailing in the Galapagos. Given that each ship has multiple Park-certified guides, groups of around to 12 guests can explore each site or participate in any number of Park-approved activities, like snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, and more! Site visits are scheduled and overseen by the Galapagos National Park, which helps to preserve the archipelago in its pristine state. 

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